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tv   Evan Osnos on Age of Ambition  CSPAN  November 26, 2015 12:00pm-12:44pm EST

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mr. thomas going to write about his grandfather? when i was a young woman at the university of wisconsin i took some dictation from him during his 1948 candidacy and i would really like to know more about him. >> guest: a very good book, thank you. there's a very good book, evocative that won the national book award in about 1978 and i would recommend if you're serious about norman thomas to go to amazon and buy that book. >> host: mike, kingsport, tennessee. >> caller: hello. i was convinced at the time of watergate that nixon had convinced himself that he needed to stay on as president. how far would he have gone? what it set aside the constitution and set himself up as a dictator if he could have? >> guest: well, nixon was, you
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know, obviously he had an expansive view of executive power. i wouldn't call him a dictator but he thought he had a lot of power and he used it and used it. no question about that. he should've been impeached and he stayed in office he would have been convicted. but i think a lot of the conspiracy theories exaggerate just how bad nixon was. i don't think there was a massive conspiracy to us all the constitution as some people do. i think watergate was more issues of screw ups that they hired of these idiots to be spies. those guys screwed up. they broke into the office of the psychiatrist of daniel ellsberg. they broke into the watergate. they got caught. nixon covered it up it was terrible but i don't think it was a massive conspiracy to undo the constitution. i just don't. >> host: and the final call for evan thomas comes from
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spokane, washington. go ahead. >> caller: i appreciate it so much. your book written about the ship that my husband was on, he was a survivor of the uss johnston, and the book was -- >> guest: yes, when he was living you called and interviewed him about his experience. >> guest: yes, what was his name again? no, jessie cochran. he was lieutenant and part of the survivors officers. >> guest: so nice to hear your voice. callback well it -- >> guest: it -- incredible story. >> caller: yes. that you wrote. i also read again your story about the captain, or the commanders at the different, you know, the japanese commander as
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well as the commander of my husband ship, you know. so i appreciate -- >> guest: earnest efforts. thank you so much. that's a great story. people should learn the start of the uss johnston. it's a great story. it was a destroyer. when they were attacked by japanese battleships went right for them, torpedoed one of them, very thorough. the ship was sunk. the captain was killed. he won the medal of honor. one of the great moments of american heroism in world war ii. >> host: evan thomas, his most recent book, here it is, "being nixon: a man divided." think serving on the booktv. >> guest: thank you. really enjoyed it. >> evan osnos this next. he spoke in washington, d.c. in september and he sat down with booktv after his talk to interviewers questions. >> it is my pleasure to
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introduce our guest for this program, evan osnos. having was born in 1976 and is a staff writer for "the new yorker" as well as a fellow at the brookings institution. he writes about fort affairs and politics. is the author of "age of ambition: chasing fortune, truth and faith in the new china." and that wonderful work when the 2014 national book award. it is the fruit of his eight years of living and working in beijing. in the book he traces the rise of the individual in china at a clash between aspiration and authoritarianism. a colleague of mine at the "washington post" wrote a wonderful review of the book in which he had this to say. quote, in the pages of "the new yorker," evan osnos has portrayed, explain and poked fun at this new china better than any other writer from the west
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or the east. in the "age of ambition" he takes his reporting a step further, illuminating what he calls china's gilded age, his appetite, challenges and dilemmas in a way few have done. turn one is to contribute to this american life on public radio and frontline pbs series. before moving to "the new yorker" he was a beijing bureau chief for the "chicago tribune" where he contributed to a series that won the 2008 pulitzer prize for investigative reporting. he's received the prize for excellence in journalism on asia, the livingston award for young journalists and an award for profile writing. please welcome evan osnos. [applause] >> thank you very much to david
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for the very kind introduction. and thank you to all of you. you've heard this from other authors but have to take it is a special pleasure to be here with people who choose to the insight on a beautiful day to talk about books. you are a self-selected an we ae an endangered species, and i thank you for coming here together. i think the our i'm guessing a lot of people in this room are interested as i am in the subject of china and what it means are all of us. underside of the world. for me, if you want to know what it actually feels like to be a writer in china, it's useful to remember an observation by john king fairbank is one of the great american china scholars can start the program at harvard, and fairbanks said at a quote, china is a journalists dream at a statistician's nightmare, because, he said come it has more human drama and
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fewer verifiable facts per square mile than anywhere else in the world. i once mentioned that to a colleague in "the new yorker"'s fact checking department a at it did find that funny in the slightest actually. [laughter] fairbanks said in 1947, and in some ways of course the observation is still accurate. by trying to shrink china has become a much more noble please come and much more verifiable place simply because somebody like me can go and live there for eight years and simply by virtue of technology and transportation you can get halfway across china in a morning and begin your reporting, or in fact you can go online and begin to understand a bit about what's going on. not a substitute by any means for living there over a long period of time but it is place now where we are beginning, i should say we don't longer have the luxury of imagining that it is not knowable. we have a responsibility to know.
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otherwise i think china has become more puzzling to us as we begin to try to ask larger questions, questions about it, it's intentions in the world, about its seeming contradictions. there are many things about it that don't seem to make sense. there are things about it when we see but i saw on paper is as of this but in reality it says this and that is ultimately what our responsibility is as writers is to try to begin to make some sense of it on the page. i want to read just a few lines from the very first page of "age of ambition" because i think it will bring how i've approached the place in writing. whenever a new idea sweeps across china, a new philosophy, a way of life, a chinese describe it as a fee for. in the first years after the country open to the world, people contracted western business due to fever and john paul fever. and private telephone fever.
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it was difficult to predict when or where a fever would ignite of what it would leave behind. in the village, population 1564, there was a fever for the american cop show hunter better known in chinese as -- expert detective. win bischoff appeared on chinese television in 1990 the villagers started to gather to watch detective rick hunter of the los angeles police department go undercover with his partner, detective maccoll at the villagers came to expect that the detective rick hunter would always find at least two occasions to put his trademark phrase, works for me. though in chinese he came across as a religious man because works for me was mistranslated as whatever god wants. [laughter] the fever pass from one person to the next and it affected each in a different way. some months later when the
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police tried to search the home of a local farmer, the men told them to come back when they had a word. a word that he had learned from expert detective took. so why do i begin a discussion of china with the somewhat specific experience of a single village 25 years ago? for me it's about the way of seeing, a way of looking at the place, about a kind of focus on the intimate changes in people's lives, the perceptual changes, the things that don't always turn up in headlines that are in their own way the forces that are propelling china to history at this moment. this is a. i've come to call the age of ambition and were then en route to do very specific things. one is this grand national ambition to state out a more glorious place for china in the world. the other kind of ambition is
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the force of 1.4 billion individual aspirations of one kind or another, each now distinct and potent ways really that were never possible before in chinese history. if you begin to understand those two kinds of ambition i think you understand some of the choices china is making both collectively and on an individual basis, and pretentious those are creating for the country and the tensions it is grating and its relationship with the rest of the world. so we talk about where china is and where it's going i think it's useful to remind ourselves were a moment about the path it has traveled over the last order century. two decades ago i got interested in china. i walked into a class on contemporary chinese politics in 1994, and for me it was absolutely electrifying. it was this operatic story of
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revolution and civil war, and this massive protean in many ways tragic force of chairman mao. and, of course, deng xiaoping who led china out of seclusion and back and to the world. and then you had after all events at tiananmen square, the democracy demonstrations in 1989 which at that point had happened just five years earlier and i was absolutely fascinated by. i was fascinated by the medal because they were young people are older than i was to build this really a tent city at the center of party power but also because you saw it remember you saw very clearly that they were torn. these young people were torn between what it meant to be of the east and upper west. they had shag haircuts and their boom boxes and in some cases
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they carried placards that had the words of patrick henry, give me liberty or give me death but then also sang the great communist party him. when it came time for them to present their demands to the leadership they did in the traditional style, down on their knees in a formal petition that they handed up to these men who are still buttoned up in their mao suits but you a sense that was on the cusp of extraordinary new defense. people were demanding so much more of their country, of themselves, and does a student protester who said that spring to reporters something for me is help me understand what that moment meant, and what the protesters said was i don't know exactly what we want but we want more of it. [laughter] that movement of course ended in bloodshed and we marked the anniversary 25 years ago last year. i flew to beijing in 1996 to
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begin studying mandarin. at the time china was of course it can replace that it is today. at the time the economy was smaller than that of italy. beijing i think there were people in the show who were there at that point, and beijing smelled like cold and wet wool and cheap tobacco. i absolutely loved it. i love the sense of this place that was just sort of beginning to unfold in front of you and your able to travel a ways that you couldn't before. it was not a glamorous place i should point out. at a time when you want to go for a nice night out on the town you'd perhaps go to the hotel which the architect proudly described as a perfect replicate of a holida holiday inn that hen in palo alto, california. [laughter] china today is home of 30% of the skyscrapers under construction worldwide. china today, i should save the
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last generation, customer to china has been want about growth, about the sudden knew plenty. we may have a different conversation in the but for the moment the thing that has been the defining factor of people's experience has been the sudden presence. some sense they are things that they didn't have before. your average person today beats six times as much meat as he or she did in 1976. this is also a ravenous era of a different kind in which people have awoken with a hunger for new ideas and new inspiration. and respect. for most of the chinese people, the boom years has not met the onset of great fortune to get his mid-a chance to climb out of poverty. people make about $200 a year in 1978. the average income to do is about $6000. with that has come an enormous gap between the rich and the
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poor. the difference in income and life expectancy in china today is between china's richest place and its pores place at the difference between new york city and ghana. if you think that kind of gap is a political issue in the united states, you can imagine how awkward it is any country the people's republic which are still after all ruled by the communist party and so that is one of the byproducts of this period that has in some ways introduce a contradiction that is hard for china to reconcile. what do chinese leaders today, the people running the country, what is it they want? what is their ambition, aspiration for china in the world? this current generation of leaders, leaders of the standing committee, the polar bear, came at a bar when i was living in beijing in november 20 oh and i got this invitation -- pulled up your. i got to go see the unveiling.
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until the moment you actually don't know who it is that's going to be running the country. it's always held in the same place at the great hall of the people in this building beside tiananmen square but this is an advanced of volunteers in the 1950s. and so i go to see the unveiling and its seven-member. of course, they're all been in this case it is the president xi jinping anti-premier and other members of standing committee as they come out on stage information you just saw in the first thing that you notice was in for me. they will work virtually identical dark suspect there were virtually identical red ties with the exception of one who i can talk but if anybody's interested during q&a. their hair was dyed to the identical shade of black which i mention not as a point of humor. it's a relevant issue in chinese politics to appear that you have many years ahead of you in your
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professional life. if those were watching at home the message was unmistakably clear. it was that we have come together around a shared idea of what we represent and what we aspire to the that are no idiosyncrasies, no divisions among us. we are one group. remember this come at a very turpentine in chinese politics and so on. and in a leader, the new president xi jinping will be here among us in washington, d.c. in just a few weeks steps forward to get his first visit, his first address to the nation as a genocide of the commonest party. what does he say? what he said is quite striking. he says he would dedicate himself above all to what he called the great renewal of the nation. the great renewal. he would then repeat this over and over again in the weeks to come. the great renewal he said is a chinese dream. he began to see the chinese team
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was now apparent that whoever it was on bus shelters and on television advertisements and there were new songs dedicated to the chinese dream. it sounds a little bit like the american dream but what is it trying to convey? to chinese listeners is as a couple of meanings that are quite clear. one of course is just extending the period of growth and transmission which is been so essential to people's lives. china is building more airports and railroads and the rest come high-speed rail roads and the rest of the world combined. china land a spacecraft on the moon. it's talk about a mission to mars and its talk about a mission to the deepest reaches of the ocean. china today launch more money to the developing world than does the world bank and the number is about to continue to grow. but the idea of the chinese can also but something else. it was about something deeper, something less physical. is about trying to pull people together in a country that is
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increasingly driven by centrifugal forces that are driving it in all kinds of new directions, about how to pull people together around a common idea of what china could be, to pull people together to unite, and this is important to the leader of the communist party, to unite, to reinvigorate support for the communist party. all with the goal of restoring china to the status that once enjoyed. this was a civilization that was printing books 400 years before gutenberg. a country that has recently as the 18th century controlled one-third of the worlds wealth. and so if you are the leader of the chinese communist party, that is the goal that you're trying to reclaim. and that for sense of what china can be and should be today, no surprise, is putting it into greater confrontation, greater
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attention with the rest of the world. not only with the united states but also with its neighbors around the east china sea and the south china sea. i think many of us have begun to wonder does china imagine itself vaulting past the united states to become the most powerful country in the world? does it see itself as a rival to the united states in the village influence others and the ability to intervene in ways that we want to? i think it's especially teddy force penetrate to feel that way now when we sent a paralysis come an inability sometimes to get things done as would like to. i think it's important remembered that the our reasons to believe that chinese leaders have a sense of what is possible and what is not possible. the simple fact is that china today is not prepared to evolve past the united states overnight. it is in so many ways a developing country today.
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and being the preeminent power is expensive to you expected to take a role, a leading role in things like the response to the islamic state or ebola or policing the international. as much as china's military is going and going very fast, its annual spending officials to own a fraction of what our defense spending is in the united states. just to put in perspective the trend as about a dozen aircraft carriers. china has one. instead of imagining china is turning to vault past is overnight i think it's useful to see it perceives itself as returning to position of the greatness and and a multipolard and returning to a position of leadership if not something, something short of being the preeminent power. .net gives us a sense of what xi jinping's vision of the china dream means. that's what chinese leaders aspire to.
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i think we should us was not his people view the same way. whether they share the same dream. and to understand that and that is what has driven my interest in china for number of years, we have been a bit more about what of the aspirations of china's 1.4 billion people? it's a force that is a source of china's greatest strength and also its greatest uncertainty. i think it's just love to point out that the subject of individual aspirations really didn't merit much attention for most of chinese history. the individual as a force in politics was always understood to be embedded in these much larger forces whether it was the family or the village or the military unit are old but, of course, the country. you saw this express and all kinds of ways in law but also in the art. al-qaeda one example. this is something the great writer knows which if you look back one of the most name is classical chinese images, this
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is a penny from the 11th century scroll by an artist called travelers amid mounds and streams big what you see is the only individual, the only person here is a horseman driving a cart through the mountains, in the lower right hand corner from where you sit. that's the only person. you compare that. if you saw that when you were looking a at this and 11th century with this entry to follow, the message was clear which is this is where you fit in as an individual into this fast, beautiful, complex cosmos. look at the equivalent western image, let's say the most famous western image it's a full framed portrait of an individual. i think this is the first selfie perhaps i think we can take credit for that innovation. in china the word itself, ambition, had a negative
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connotation. one of the ways you can say it in chinese is -- which means wild heart. to have a wild heart in china was have a kind of wolfish ambition, desire to put yourself in front of others at the expense of others. 2000 years ago there was a collection of advice for rulers, and it said keep our out of band of of the ambitious just as you would keep sharp tools out of the hands of the foolish. that idea, that since that we should be suspicious of individual aspirations, that nixon also independent of socialism. it was congenial with a sense of actual to put yourself behind a collective sacrifices and collected gains for the cooper and, in fact, the state newspapers in the heyday of socialism used remind people that the highest calling was to be as they put it a rest was screwed in a revolutionary
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machine. the pressure to reach, to conform reached its most intense than the cultural revolution but that was appeared of course when any deviation of orthodoxy with dangers. echo going to life and that of your family. there was a physician who suffered terribly during that time. he was sent out to the far western reaches of the desert. his wife committed suicide and he was asked later what you learn from that experience and he said to survive in china you must reveal nothing to others or it can be used against you. lecture public itself be like rice in a dinner, bland and inconspicuous. i have to tell you that in the china that i've inhabited where i've lived in britain for the last decade, that print as well as understanding the place is less and less useful. the change that i'm describing can be traced to many moments
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that is an essential moment, a crucial moment in the late 1970s when deng xiaoping and his peers reopened china can begin to reopen china after trauma of the revolution begin to open a window to the outside world. year-by-year people began to leave the collective farms and factories that have so defined the existence. there were many restrictions. of course, still on the way people live. there still are today but within that sphere of the private lives that they could just take it this much greater sense of autonomy. when you talk about leaving the collective farms and factories one of the word people use in chinese was -- which means to unfettered to its workers were often used for the unfettered other prisoner or an annual. ethnocentric the change helping people's private lives. as they were unfettered reign an economy began, they had to make decisions for all kinds of things they had not thought
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about before. in mao today it was immoral and illegal to take a second job, to moonlight. author time and energy and aspiration was dedicated to the state. he belonged to the state and now people have defined themselves. you saw this in small ways. there was a boom in the print business cards. people need to be able to identify themselves by name and the things they could do. it was an advertising of the self. you know longer people saying that it was your duty to be at rest was screwed in a revolutionary machine. in fact, a newspaper that a different message. one headline put in the '80s you must rely on yourself, blasier own path and fight and you begin to hear this turning up in the language in other ways. remember the old word for ambition, wild heart. gradually wild heart begin to lose some of that negative connotation and it edged into neutral territory and to
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continue to evolve to the point we going to chinese bookstore today you can find this book which is called how to arouse the wild heart in your children. there are other books in the self-help aisles like how to have a wild heart in your 20s. advertisers picked up on this and they begin to market their cell phones. china mobile was selling a cell phone via people with a slogan my turf, my decision. you might think this is going on in the city but maybe in the countryside things are exactly as if always been. like many things in china take in this technological period things that had begun in the cities and gradually reached to the countryside. to the point if you go to school today, a school in a row section of the delta where a researcher went recently and found that the students recite the following pledge. ever since god grid all things on earth there has not been one person like me, my eyes and my gears, my brain and my seoul all
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our exceptional. nobody speaks or behaves like me. no one before me and no one will after me. i am the biggest miracle of nature. i've often thought what would be like teaching a roomful of kids who say that every morning? [laughter] challenging i think. in china today people are asking themselves in one form or another what do i want them what i want for myself, what do i want for my family, but unwilling to risk in order to get myself? ..
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>> >> had no interest to marry the type of person her parents could introduce her to. they inhabited different universes by generation. historically ti says matchmakers factory bosses, parents, and they handle the delicate business to pare people up it was not left to a mitscher's. matters of the car was serious business. people were pared on the similar family background, a financial wealth, political profile.
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but as this autonomy returned all of a sudden matchmakers were in retreat and young people wanted to do this for themselves than they would bear hug the sins of twice over this piece. to give an example but that was like i will read to the on-line personals ad by a young woman. someone on the internet. this is not her. [laughter] she placed an ad seeking a young man with the following qualities. no previous marriages, a master's degree or more, not the only child, no smokers, not alcoholics, no gamblers, taller than 172 centimeters, ready for least one year of dating before marriage, a sporty sporty, parents were still together, annual salary over 50,000 common at 26 and 32
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is your age, four dinners at told each week, a track record of at least 2x girlfriends but no more than four. [laughter] no virgo or capricorn. [laughter] if you are interested i can help you get in touch. so she realized there were a lot of people in china facing a similar predicament said she started a company that means a beautiful destiny is in chinese. so it is similar to match the job, -- match.com to find a profile so to bringing out of the public market to make $77 million i
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haven't checked the price this week but and i should add it all happened so fast for her that she almost didn't have it to answer for her life to catch up. she met in a tiny shoe box of an apartment and she moves into the suburbs but the old habits into word when i saw her for the first time after words with her husband and mother and daughter the first thing i saw was the family scooter the moped was in the front hall. i said why is it your? she said it think it is safer i said i thank you are okay. your next-door neighbor is the swiss ambassador. [laughter] but it's there is nothing typical about somebody like is to make $70 million by
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starting the internet company but with her experience though hallmarks is the expectation that you deserve something of your own design to create a reality. the possibility you can start a business like this she did have trouble over the years you can even imagine to do that. what of the things that i have learned with the age of ambition to c3 specific pursuits. with the pursuit of fortune that is easiest to see from afar. in then they are finally having the opportunity to improve their lot in life
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but then what happens next is as you begin to accumulate the things that you wanted for so long you discover you need to know more about the world around you. the house that you just bought may not be safe unless you know, who was in a position, who were your neighbors? who sets the rules? maybe you wonder about what is the air quality? on the smart phone today you can go online to see the air quality and how that compares to said who standards. so people have of bigger conception of what means a good life to pursue truth. who sets the rules and our society and who is breaking them?
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you have seen over the course the last couple of years of vast number of arrests during the anti-corruption campaign driven in some form by this desire to know more about the country around you. as people begin to agents of the basic questions about law and policy there are restrictions on what they can read in the newspaper but then people begin to ask deeper questions so what does it mean to be a citizen in our society? what do we stand for as a culture or as a nation? socialism no longer means very much in a meaningful way so what drives me today?
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in some ways to provide economic answers but not with moral answers. with this widespread search. said there are as many christians as there are of the communist party. >> but did the pursuit of faith it is like people say nevil choose for myself what i care about and what i want to pursue. and i will leave you with an example of what that feels like. as there was an uptick of
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nationalism and inside china there was a reaction. and what are they saying about our country? i had a note on my fax machine correct your misunderstandings where you and your loved ones will wish you were dead. it was it me personally but the journalists as a group but people were frustrated. it was it being three called china's stand up and the video with flags waving in the wind with blurbs that say china must defend itself
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to keep it down. with the second most popular video, i got in ted chin said can i come see you? i had an image of who will was in his parents' proverbial basement. and i realize quickly my impression was wrong. and then he tried to pay my taxi fare dressed the same way i was and then at that point getting his ph.d. in western political philosophy. and i asked him what was your dissertation? he said are you familiar
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rehearsals work? i said of course, . every american. [laughter] we're all very familiar. he was very generous to lead me into his world and i came to understand more what was going on. end in some ways to be enormously proud also growing up biddies educational environment that he had a sense that was not the vision inside. we will see more of that clash in the years ahead for what china feels and what we begin to understand thank you for listening. [applause]
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anybody has questions i will be happy to answer them. >> your book is marvelous. some are caught up in the alley and of anxiety about my other questions have to do with this that make life any easier? and then not allowing the dali lama into south africa that is astonishing considering their history. but also the situation in terms to ameliorate or separate movements with the
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chinese clamp down. >> go the tenement generation for many of them was a defining experience of their lives. it is hard to generalize many were plutocrats then they never found out from what was possible but it is not improving but getting worse. that there is growing tension for the moment frankly no political framework for how to relieve this tension and it continues to grow because of policy and there is this sense it will be one of the defining issues

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